“Sunken eyes.” “Translucent skin.”
These are the words the Guardian used to describe 1-month-old Syrian girl Sahar Dofdaa, who died Sunday from starvation in one of the last parts of Syria held by armed groups that oppose the government.
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The baby girl, who weighed two kilograms at the time of her death, reportedly was too weak to cry. Her mother, so undernourished she could not breastfeed the girl, and her father, too poor to pay for milk or supplements, could do nothing to save their only child, who died at a hospital in the eastern Ghouta city of Hamouria and was buried in the town of Kafr Batna, according to an Agence France Presse (AFP) report.
On Saturday, the AFP released a devastating series of eight photographs of Dofdaa, who had been taken to a hospital in the war-torn region. The photos bring light to the nutrition crisis afflicting Syrians in areas where armed rebels continue to face off against the Bashar Al-Assad regime in the country’s six-year-long civil war.
Mohamad Katoub, a doctor at the Syrian American Medical Society who spoke with the Guardian, said at least 68 people are suffering from severe malnutrition in eastern Ghouta, although that number is likely far higher on account of the challenge of gathering data in the region, the Guardian reports.
Once a major agricultural region, eastern Ghouta is now the last rebel-held area in the suburbs of Damascus, according to Al Jazeera. Since July, the Assad government has dropped nearly 1,000 surface-to-surface missiles on the region in an attempt to drive out opposition forces, and have continued to do so despite a humanitarian ceasefire signed by Russia and Syria that same month.
According to multiple reports, food and medical aid must be smuggled into the area, leading to exorbitant food prices and malnutrition as families can’t afford staple goods like sugar and rice.
So far, two children in the region have died due to insufficient breastfeeding, according to UNICEF spokesperson Monica Awad, who spoke with AFP.
"During the past month, there has been two reported deaths among infants, one girl aged 34 days and a boy aged 45 days, due to insufficient breastfeeding," Awad said. "Mothers also don't have access to quality food, making them frail and unable to breastfeed their children."
UNICEF has said that 1,114 children are suffering from various forms of malnutrition in the region, and 232 have experienced severe acute malnutrition in the past several months.
The Daily Sabah, a Turkish magazine, quotes local activists as saying that the crisis has been worsened by “local businessmen who hide food and medical products in orders to raise the prices.”
"Infant death rates have dramatically increased due to lack of milk and enough food,” the Eastern Ghouta media centre said in a statement, published on Al Jazeera.
According to aid officials, one kilogram of sugar costs $15, which they say is “a price far beyond the reach of civilians.”
The doctor who treated Dofdaa told Al Jazeera that the amount of aid that has made it into the region meets just 5% of nutritional needs.
Global Citizen is calling on world leaders to fully fund the UN famine response so that the UN can deliver emergency healthcare and food to vulnerable people around the world, including Syria. You can take action here.